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The NEDA  Regional Office (NRO)  in MIMAROPA, in collaboration with the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), conducted the Search for Outstanding COVID-19 Volunteer (SOCV) Regional Recognition Ceremony on December 22 through  Zoom and Facebook Live.

In her welcome remarks, OIC Regional Director Susan A. Sumbeling of NRO MIMAROPA emphasized the importance of celebrating the presence of volunteers in the region and their significant role in the government’s response to the various effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because of them, they carried the region to be considered champions of volunteerism,” said Sumbeling. “And this is something that needs a joyous gathering such as this,” she added.

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The SOCV replaced the Search for Outstanding Volunteers (SOV),  the centerpiece activity of the National Volunteer Month (NVM) observed every December pursuant to Presidential Proclamation No. 55, s. 1998. This is PNVSCA’s strategy to pay tribute to the COVID-19 volunteers and to undertake advocacy for the promotion of volunteerism as a tool for development, as mandated by Republic Act No. 9418, or the Volunteer Act of 2007.

The SOCV also aims to highlight the contribution of volunteers who offered their services, skills, and resources at this time of the pandemic.

The NRO MIMAROPA, together with the SOCV Regional Search Committee, received twelve nominees from the different provinces of the region, from which the search committee selected the outstanding COVID-19 volunteer and two special citations.

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Ms. Melissa Grace C.  Olit, founder of Chef Aiza’s Community Kitchen and a college professor, was awarded the Outstanding COVID-19 Volunteer. She personally funded the Community Kitchen by dipping into her savings which was supposedly for the start-up capital for her coffee shop. Chef Aiza’s Community Kitchen produced around 200 to 1,250 packed meals on a daily basis. These were distributed by the volunteers and other supporters to hospitals, checkpoints, homeless individuals, locally stranded individuals or LSIs, indigent communities among others. The community kitchen was able to reach 41 barangays in Puerto Princesa City.

In her acceptance speech, Olit said that Aiza’s Community Kitchen was founded on a simple desire to contribute during the pandemic, as no one could have told what 2020 would bring.

“It’s as clear as day every time I recall that fateful event last March 2020 when we started mobilizing just because we wanted to help—we wanted to contribute something. We did not know how far we could do. We did not know how much we could contribute. But one thing was certain—we wanted to make a difference,” she added.

Special citations were given to Ms. Silvany Delight Q. Gastanes and Ms. Elizabeth M. Fury for their invaluable and selfless service in the region’s response to COVID-19 pandemic and in promoting the value of volunteerism in the community. Gastanes is a college professor and a reservist who made improvised face shield for medical employees and frontliners and conducted feeding program and handwashing lecture that benefitted 258 children in Palawan.

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On the other hand, Fury is a professional diving instructor and a member of the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary who provided shuttle services for frontliners, helped in relief operations and swabbing center activities; and assisted LSIs, returning overseas Filipinos or  ROFs, and authorized persons outside residence or APORs to the testing centers.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua sent his congratulatory greeting to the nominees and awardees through a recorded message.

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The ceremony was also graced by OIC-Undersecretary Mercedita A. Sombilla and Assistant Secretary Greg L. Pineda of the NEDA Regional Development Group and PNVSCA Executive Director Donald James D. Gawe. Each of them gave their congratulatory messages for the nominees and awardees during the program.

“To volunteer one’s time, skills, knowledge, and resources, to undertake humanitarian efforts despite the risks involved require great passion and commitment. This is all very evident in your sense of urgency during the COVID-19 response. Thank you for being at the forefront providing medical, community, and societal responses prioritizing the needs of the people as we move onward to a better normal,” said Sombilla.

Present during the online event were the nine nominees of the SOCV, regional directors and representatives of regional line agencies, presidents of state universities and colleges, local government units, and private sector representatives.